Durkheim's "cult of the individual" and the moral reconstitution of society

Sociological Theory 5 (1):1-14 (1987)
The significance of Durkheim's lifelong concern with the development of individualism in society is undeniable. Beginning with his critique of the pathological egoistic individualism of Herbert Spencer and the English utilitarians, Durheim's analysis of individualism culminates in his notion of the "cult of the individual". Originally conceptualized as neither a true social bond nor a possible basis of social solidarity, individualism is eventually seen by Durkheim as the sole surviving form of mechanical solidarity in modern society. In attempting to explain the moral basis of modern society, Durkheim struggles with the question, what is the relationship between the moral specialization or diversity associated with organic solidarity and the morality of the collective conscience, which becomes focused on the "cult of the individual"? Tracing the evolution of Durkheim's thought reveals his shift from a structural to an idealist orientation as well as his proposals for social reform in modern society
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